Editor's note: The following texts were rekeyed and reprinted on April 20, 2009 in Resource Library with permission of Dr. David J. Wagner. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, please contact Dr. Wagner at (414) 221-6878 or davidjwagnerllc@yahoo.com.


Art, Nature, and Philosophy

An Essay about the Aesthetic, Ethic, and Legacy of Kent Ullberg

by David J. Wagner, Ph.D



There are many worlds of art. But no matter in which Kent Ullberg's work is judged, it succeeds because of the breadth, depth, and sophistication of his knowledge and talent. In the world of New York's National Academy of Design or National Sculpture Society, Ullberg's art stands out because he deeply understands nature and his treatment of it goes beyond urbane aesthetics. In the world of the National Museum of Wildlife Art, the Society of Animal Artists, or The Wildlife Experience, Ullberg's work rises above the rest because he applies his broad knowledge of art history to create his sculptures. This duality is unusual. Relatively few other artists embody much less embrace it. It is a result of Ullberg's aspiration to be true to art and to nature.


Good Art / Bad Art

While deceptively simple because of its elegance, Kent Ullberg's sculpture is actually very complex. Ullberg's genius is his ability to manage complexity by layering concepts, composition and design in his works so that they are enjoyable as a whole and/or in detail and accessible at many levels. Like a world class athlete, Ullberg makes this look easy. But it is definitely not.

Countless artists produce paintings and sculptures of wildlife, but only a small percentage produce work that is good. This can be verified at any major competition. This could, I suppose, be said about all art. Most is mediocre as a function of the law of averages. But with wildlife art, mediocrity seems to be especially prevalent.

There are, of course, many reasons for this. Mediocrity in art can be the result of factors ranging from poor conceptualization and design to incompetent execution. Contributing to the general state of mediocrity in wildlife art is the fact that many wildlife artists and collectors know little about art history. Worse yet is that most don't care. Kent Ullberg is a rare exception.

Good art comes from artists who transform talent and knowledge and skill into clear conceptualization, unified design, and competent execution. Great art comes from artists who transcend competence to attain achievements that endure. Few artists consistently produce great art. The process of creating great art places many demands on artists; and only the most thoughtful, talented and driven can pull it off. Kent Ullberg is one of the few who does. Consequently, his work is perennially selected for commissions and exhibitions worldwide.

Kent Ullberg is a master in full command of his art. He is an unusually deep thinker who uses the power of knowledge to inform himself and develop and shape his art. Like artists of the Renaissance, Ullberg infuses his respect for classical aesthetic traditions with scientific knowledge.

To date, Kent Ullberg has produced more than 50 monuments and 250 smaller castings. For most artists, this would be enough, but not for Kent Ullberg. Because Ullberg demands more from himself for art than do most artists, he has distinguished himself in yet another way. Kent Ullberg has advanced the story of wildlife art by embracing an aesthetic philosophy beyond those embodied in modern art and bridging the entire genre into the 21st Century.


Legacy: Beyond Modern Art

Kent Ullberg is a contemporary artist who produces a kind of modern art known among aestheticians as postmodern art. Postmodern art may be defined as art that transcends modernist principles such as abstraction or minimalism by embracing and incorporating traditional as well as modern elements of style. Postmodern art represents not so much of a shift away from modernism as it does a synthesis of it with traditional styles.

Postmodern thinking first emerged in American culture in the late 1950's. One of the earliest critics to theorize about the shift was Irving Howe. As a paradigm of architecture, postmodernism became prominent in the 1970's through the thinking and writing of architects such as Philip C. Johnson who advocated decoration, eclecticism, and humor in architecture. Postmodern art emerged in the 1960's and became widely established along with postmodern architecture during the 1980's, the decade that Kent Ullberg emerged as a force in monumental, postmodern sculpture. In 1984, Ullberg attended an address by Johnson at the annual meeting of the National Sculpture Society in New York. In his address, Johnson recognized that a new epoch had emerged in the history of art, stating that representational art was beginning to re-emerge and displace non-representational, modern art.

Kent Ullberg subsequently embraced postmodernism not only in North America, but world-wide, as evidenced in commissions beginning in Dallas, to his tour de force, Sailfish in Three Stages of Ascending in Fort Lauderdale, across the Atlantic to his native country of Sweden, and back again, most recently with his First National Bank of Omaha commission. Collectively, these establish his legacy as a leading postmodern sculptor of our time.


(above left and above center: Sailfish in Three Stages of Ascending, Bronze, Granite, Water, 36' x 150' x 120'; above right: Wind in the Sails)



Biography of Kent Ullberg

Kent Ullberg was born Jean Axel Kent Ullberg in Gothenburg, Sweden, on July 15, 1945. As a young man, Ullberg studied at the Swedish Konstfack School of Art in Stockholm, and at museums in France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In 1967, he was offered a one-year job as a safari taxidermist in Botswana, Africa. After that, he went on his own, working independently as a taxidermist and a guide. Among his clients was the Denver Museum of Natural History. This connection came about through Alec Campbell, Director of Wildlife and National Parks, and the Botswana National Museum and Art Gallery. In 1969, he hired Ullberg to assist with an expedition for the Denver Museum of Natural History to collect specimens for its new African Hall. Pleased with Ullberg's performance, Campbell subsequently hired Ullberg as Curator of the Botswana National Museum and Art Gallery. During this period, Ullberg also kept busy sculpting African wildlife. (right: Kent Ullberg)

In 1974, Ullberg's career and life were re-directed to the United States when Charles Crockett, Director of the Denver Museum of Natural History offered him an appointment to curate the museum's African Hall, at the highest job grade along with airfare and relocation expenses. Realizing that this was an opportunity of a lifetime, Ullberg accepted and flew from Gaborone to New York where he arrived on May 17, 1974, and then on to Denver. In Denver, Ullberg quickly befriended various artists but none more helpful than sculptors, Kenn Bunn, and George Carlson, a second-generation Swedish-American. They introduced Ullberg to Bob Zimmerman, who had established a foundry named Art Castings of Colorado in Loveland about 30 miles north of Denver.

Ullberg's first bronze in the United States was cast at Art Castings of Colorado. It was cast from a plaster cast of a wildebeest entitled, Migration, which was one of 15 that he had brought to Denver from Africa. Migration, which was cast in July 1974 in an edition of 15, began a long and beneficial relationship with Zimmerman and Art Castings of Colorado, and established Ullberg as a sculptor in America.

Ullberg's sculptures have since been exhibited at important galleries and museums throughout the world, including the National Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, Sweden; the National Gallery in Botswana, Africa; National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.; Exhibition Hall, Beijing, China; Guildhall in London; and the Salon d'Automne in Paris, France.

In addition, Kent Ullberg has been commissioned to produce a significant number of monumental sculptures worldwide, including Deinonychus Dinosaurs, a 25' monument on Logan Square, Philadelphia; a conservation fountain featuring his Rites of Spring stainless-steel whopping crane for the headquarters of the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C.; The Broward Convention Center Marine Fountain, an extraordinary 120' by 150' monument for the City of Ft. Lauderdale, FL; a 65' high installation for the Swedish Government Tele-Com Center in Stockholm; and his First National Bank Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness monument in Omaha.

Kent Ullberg is a member of a number of important art organizations which have honored him with prestigious awards. These include, in New York City, Allied Artists of America, National Academy of Design, National Arts Club, National Sculpture Society, and the Society of Animal Artists. Those outside New York include the American Society of Marine Artists, Ambler, PA; and the National Academy of Western Art, Oklahoma City.

Kent Ullberg supports wildlife conservation and has given generously to its various causes. He resides with his wife, Veerle on Padre Island, in Corpus Christi, Texas.

- David J. Wagner, Ph.D., Curator/Tour Director


About David J. Wagner, Ph.D.

Dr. David J. Wagner is a leading American wildlife art scholar, author and museum professional. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on wildlife art history, taught museum studies at several colleges and universities, and served as a museum director for twenty years. Today he works independently as Tour Director for the Society of Animal Artists, a world-wide organization headquartered in New York. He authored American Wildlife Art which has a website at http://american-wildlife-art.com.


About the exhibition Kent Ullberg: A Retrospective

Kent Ullberg: A Retrospective is a traveling exhibition produced by David J. Wagner, L.L.C. Dr. Wagner is the Curator and Tour Director for the exhibition.

Tour venues include:

September 15, 2002 - January 20, 2003
The Joslyn Art Museum,
Omaha, NE
October 20 - December 20, 2003
The Sam & Aline Skaggs Arts Education Building
Ogden, UT
October 2, 2004 ­ January 2, 2005
The Wildlife Experience
Parker, CO
February 4 ­ May 8, 2005
National Museum of Wildlife Art
Jackson, WY
May 28 - July 24, 2005
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum
Neenah, WI
August 15 - October 30, 2005
Houston Museum of Natural Science
Houston, TX
November 15, 2005 - January 1, 2006
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Tucson, AZ
January 14 ­ March 12, 2006
Foothills Art Center
Golden, CO
February 13 - April 11, 2010
Spartanburg County Art Museum
Spartanburg, SC
May 1 - June 27, 2010
Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure
Salina, KS
(Exact dates subject to change. Be sure to check with venues for days/hours of admission.)


(above left: Lincoln Center Eagle, Kent Ullberg, Stainless Steel, 23', Dallas, TX; above right: Waiting for Sockeye, Bronze, 6' x 10')


Additional images

To view page 1 images click here and for page 2 images click here.


Editor's note:

The above texts were rekeyed and reprinted in Resource Library on April 23, 2009 with permission of Dr. David J. Wagner, granted to TFAO on April 21, 2009. If you have questions or comments regarding the texts, please contact Dr. Wagner at (414) 221-6878 or davidjwagnerllc@yahoo.com.

All images reprinted with permission of Kent Ulberg, Ullberg Studios. If you have questions regarding the images please contact Ullberg Studios, 3850 S. Alameda, Ste. 23, Corpus Christi, TX  78411. (361) 851-1600. ullberg@sbcglobal.net. www.kentullberg.net.

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